Friday, June 17, 2022

Finding our New Summer Routine

Summer is in full swing now! We are finding our new summer routine.


I've reserved Mondays as my "hosting day," with intentions not to try to accomplish anything else on that day. I'm trying to host playdates on Mondays, and then I'm teaching a high-school summer course to several teenagers each Monday afternoons. 

I took four of the children to see Wizard of Oz on the big screen, which was particularly loads of fun because the oldest kids have been to only a couple of movies ever, and the younger kids none.

We attended a delight class on animals hosted by a homeschool graduate. Children were fascinated to learn about local North Carolina animals by studying their footprints, pelts, and bones. The young man teacher did such a good job involving a child in presenting each of the animals: the kids paid acute attention, hoping to be called upon! Everyone also enjoyed eating a picnic and playing at the playground.

Joseph holding an animal horn

One weekend, I got to meet longtime, online friend Zina! She and her family have been true prayer warriors for Thomas. It was a real blessing that she was visiting our state and we got to spend the morning together. Social media has a lot of ills, but sometimes beautiful things come out of it!

John attended a formal high-school masquerade ball with 70+ other students: it was a grand success!

We received a spontaneous visit from relatives Art and Gina from Buffalo, NY! We put on an easy lunch spread and spent the afternoon playing card games.

We were also privileged to receive a visit from our farm friends who live several hours away, but were in town for an appointment. We enjoyed a big spread of pulled pork sandwiches and picnic sides plus a swimming play date with their large family.

Summer School

Summer school is not going as rigorously as I had hoped, but I remind myself that I instituted it mainly to keep the children intentional and productive when we are not doing fun, social activities. I'm just trying to avoid the black hole time suck that is screen time. And the truth is we've been so busy with social activities that there isn't that much time for summer school.

The girls have to work through several novels, a timeline history and genealogy project, and map work for their upcoming middle school hybrid school. We're tackling that work about once a week. The others are very slowly chipping away at math facts and spelling.

Each person is reading good literature, and that goes a long way. Thomas (6) is currently reading obsessively Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Joseph (9) is pouring through novel after novel such that I can't actually keep track. Margaret (11) is reading David Copperfield and Mary (13) is reading Tales of Two Cities (yet again). John (15) is reading The Brave New World and The Mass of Brother Michel. I'm juggling numerous books:
  • Manuel for Women by Danielle Bean (reading this for an online course I'm taking)
  • Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx (reading this as assigned in preparation for a silent retreat)
  • The Hunger Games trilogy (total fluff, previewing it for the teenagers, as I am very partial to dystopian literature)
  • Still chugging my way through The Summa Domestica by Leila Lawler, a delightful read easily picked up and set down

Thomas (6) has adopted the habit of reading aloud to his brother David (4) after I'm done reading to them and I turn out the lights. One night recently, he started 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Illustrated Classics version, not the original) and read aloud for 30 minutes until David fell asleep. All my children have learned it is my kryptonite to let them stay up late as long as they are reading in bed.

Planning Lessons

I'm devoting much time to planning the daily lessons plans for the 2022-23 academic year. Grades 6, 8, and 10 will mostly be taking courses from other homeschool teachers, but I'm designing the curriculum for grades K, 2, and 4 from whole cloth. It just takes so much time and I wish I could work in a solitary way for a whole week straight to just knock it out.

Learning to Work

The older kids are working quite a bit, which is exciting, fruitful, and adds a new dimension to the family calendar. John (15) is working several times a week at a local ice cream shop, plus continuing to accept job requests from neighbors, such as moving furniture this weekend.

Mary (13) has launched a pet care visit and has already landed a three-week job and a job that will last all this year, God willing!

Even Margaret (11) has requests to do mothers' helper work this summer.

This is all so good for young people, something I remind myself even when I'm having to juggle many other layers on our family calendar.

Family buying ice cream while John is on shift

Puppy Pics

Tilly and Nicky now spayed and neutered! We continue working with a dog trainer, so the dogs are much better learning where they fit into the pack, which results in more amenable behavior.

Tilly had to stay confined to her crate much of the time for about five days while she recovered (because the puppies play too rough), but Nicky kept her company by lying right outside her door.

Nicky's new favorite spot to lie down is right beneath my kitchen sink where I wash dishes. Very convenient!

Mary and Nicky

Sweet sleeping pups

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Second Anniversary of Diagnosis Day

Saturday June 4, 2022, was Thomas's second-year anniversary of being diagnosed with a softball-sized neuroblastoma cancer at four years old.

The night before, Chris and I discussed the anniversary and, while we are now again living an exceedingly active family life, we are remain, post-trauma, "last-minute" kind of people, a reverberation of a year and a half when we could make no plans at all, not even plans for the next day. Even now, when we host parties and such, we invite everyone over the day before! Thus, we had no plans for the anniversary day, but we both confessed that other anniversary days rock our core in a way this one doesn't. Thomas's two worst surgery days of November 18th and December 4th are hard.

I still remember on that June 4th having taken Thomas to his primary care provider, having blood drawn, and taking him for an hour-long ultrasound, at the end of which the sweet, young tech said, "Does Thomas's doctor know how to reach you? He'll be calling you tonight." 

I left the clinic to take Thomas to dinner and I remember the suffocating feeling in my throat that I knew with certainty our lives would never be the same when I heard whatever the news was going to be. I sat in that moment articulating in my mind that the truth of Thomas's condition already existed even though I didn't know what it was and that within hours, the curtain obscuring reality would be ripped aside.

Thomas (4) eating dinner with his Mama, waiting for his diagnosis

And I remember when I called my friends to ask their teenage daughter to babysit for me so we could take Thomas to meet his oncologist, whose office had called the next morning and asked, "Is there any way you could be here within the hour?" I remember thinking I was holding myself together until I tried to talk and out came primal screams and weeping such that, to this day, I don't know how the friend on the other end of the phone understood me, but the babysitter showed up within the hour.

Nowadays Chris and I walk around knowing a little more about how any sense of control over our own lives is mostly false, but that God's truth that we cannot see is always behind the curtain. I try my best not to live with paranoia, but to remember that I know what I know, but God knows everything and His Will will be done.

We spent Thomas's anniversary day doing very normal things. I was downstairs at 5:30 a.m. to bake (no sugar, low-carb, high-protein) chocolate chip muffins for a special breakfast. At one point I pulled Thomas on my lap to tell him what today was. He grinned happily, asked me to bake him a (no-sugar, low-carb) chocolate pound cake for his anniversary, and ran off.

After my teens went jogging with me, our family spent the morning doing some landscaping clean-up work. Thomas did quality control on the leaf piles.

Thomas and David requested a picnic lunch.

Later the family went swimming and Chris went to a church event, while I did the Saturday grocery shopping, three loads of laundry, and probably five dishwasher loads . . . in other words, a typical day. Busy housekeeping days mean leftovers for dinner.

My pound cake fell apart, which seemed symbolically fitting for what happened on this Diagnosis Day two years ago. And then Thomas refused to eat it at all, which makes him a typical, capricious six-year-old.

Excited to bake, unwilling to eat

We appreciate if you ever remember us in prayers. Thomas's 18-month scans are in July and we pray for no relapse of cancer.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Memorial Day Week

Much copied from Facebook, but also fresh material . . . 

Patience at the Baskin-Robbins

Dear Lord, When I kvetch and moan resentfully about my travails, may I please be more like little Thomas, who has learned much about how to suffer. ~ Katherine  

Tonight I took the children out to Baskin-Robbins for Sunday night dessert . . . a rare treat to actually go out! Thomas was over-the-moon excited, as he has been taken to an ice cream shop only four times in the last 14 months. We got there and discovered the store does not carry even a single sugar-free ice cream, so Thomas agreed immediately that it would be okay if all his siblings still got to order ice cream and he accepted my offer to swing by a grocery store on the way home to buy some sugar-free ice cream. Then he sat sweetly amidst his siblings, drinking his ice water--the only safe thing for him on the menu--and he didn't even complain once. Ice cream is an undeniably big deal for a six-year-old tyke. 

I had to fight back tears at the Baskin-Robbins to think of my daily complaints in light of how much physical horror Thomas previously endured and all the more garden variety challenges he still surmounts daily that he does not complain about. Just earlier today, he ate something unsafe for him, collapsed on the kitchen floor (where he lay for 20 minutes), covered in sweat (hair soaked through), saying he felt like he was "suffocating," and then began throwing up as I poked his fingers to verify his skyrocketing blood glucose. No complaints.

Please let me do better.

Mundane Miracles

In a miracle of every day life, I note that Thomas has lived to experience the childhood milestone of losing his two bottom teeth and two top teeth in very short order, so he looks like quite the silly little boy right now and he’s bustin’ with pride about it. May God grant me the grace as often as possible for me to recognize the mundane miracles.

Memorial Day 2022

We enjoyed having some families over for a cookout and watching Joseph set off his latest rocket!

A New Goal

I've set my sights on walking (maybe fast-walking, maybe jogging) a 5K in September and I've gotten my 13- and 15-year-olds to agree to train with me. Our first week and three jog-walks are under our belts!

Physical Therapy Walks

I'm trying to take the younger boys on morning walks most days of the week, with my main (unspoken) goal to increase Thomas's strength and endurance. He is very good at using his scooter to race around, but just plain walking uses up his endurance and causes leg pain.

One tactic I used successfully this week was to take them on a nature walk with sketch books, which kept the boys interested to keep going. They loved studying the trap door spiders we found!

Summer Routine Set In Action

I posted a few weeks ago asking for advice on controlling the black vortex that is the Internet. I’ve come up with a daily summer to do list for the kids before they can have Internet recreation time, which then should be limited to an hour. Various kids will be learning or reviewing math facts, spelling, penmanship, and keyboarding. I’ve also assigned some daily exercise and reading. Our oldest has a job and the next two will be working for neighbors. Plus there should be pool time most days! I have high hopes for a great summer!

Thomas (6) reading The Hobbit

Puppy Pics

We had our second session with the dog trainer with goals of the dogs learning their proper position in the pack (read: not at the top), becoming properly housebroken, and Nicky overcoming his anxiety. If he securely knows his place in the pack, the anxiety should dissipate.

One of our tools is the Calming Cap. He can still see through it: it just dims his experience of simulation, like looking through a screen. It calms him down so much that he just goes to sleep.

Source image:

Nicky sporting his Calming Cap

Nicky likes to sleep under my desk with his chin on my foot.

Snoozing on a car ride

I don't know how the dogs got themselves into this puppy sandwich, but they were very happy and cozy.